There are some obvious strategies for improving college completion starting with improved preparation and a stronger college advising and support programs.

Less obvious but perhaps most powerful would be improving completion incentives for colleges. They currently have perverse incentives to churn-and-burn underclassman. The lower division is a cash cow with big classes taught by TAs and subsidizes niche upper division courses. They whole thing is designed around faculty instead of students. If public institutions received completion bonuses the situation would immediately improve.

For-profit colleges spend valuable resources recruiting students and only recoup a return if students stick around. As a result, they pay attention to the lower division student experience and have completion rates that are usually better than public institutions.

As a recent Bowen study suggested, we can also improve matching—helping students choose the right post secondary institution. That’s why I joined the board of a Strive for College, a new non-profit that helps high school seniors make the best possible college choice.

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Tom Vander Ark is author of Difference Making at the Heart of Learning, The Power of Place, Better Together, Smart Parents, Smart Cities and Getting Smart. He is co-founder of Getting Smart and Learn Capital and serves on the boards of Education Board Partners, 4.0 Schools, Digital Learning Institute, Latinx Education Collaborative, Mastery Transcript Consortium and eduInnovation. Follow Tom on Twitter, @tvanderark.


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